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Campus guard's retaliation charge following harassment claim reinstated

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A federal appeals court has reinstated a retaliation charge filed by a former campus guard, who was fired herself after her complaint led to disciplinary action against a supervisor who had allegedly sexually harassed her.

Iris Foster was hired as a campus security guard by the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, Maryland, in March 2007, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in Iris Foster v. University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Ms. Foster charged that a co-worker who supervised her, Rudolph Jones, began sexually harassing her even before she started work. She complained about it to her supervisors, and he was transferred away from his role as supervisor, required to take sexual harassment training and required to sign an agreement he would be immediately terminated upon any further violation of university policy.

“According to Foster, however, she was also punished by the university for complaining about Jones,” and a supervisor recommended her for termination less than a month after her last complaint against Mr. Jones, said the ruling. She was terminated in October 2007.

The university provided several justifications for firing Ms. Foster, but said also she was “fixated” and “preoccupied” by her harassment experience.

Ms. Foster filed suit against the university on charges of retaliation, discrimination and creation of a hostile work environment, and the U.S. District Court in Baltimore granted the university summary judgment dismissing the case.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court reinstated the retaliation claim. “A reasonable jury could conclude from Foster’s evidence that the University’s proffered justifications were not its real reason for firing her,” said the ruling. “A reasonable jury could further conclude … the University’s actual reason for firing Foster was to retaliate against her for complaining about Jones’s alleged sexual harassment,” said the ruling, in remanding the case for further proceedings.